By Peta-Gay Hodges
KINGSTON, Jamaica, (JIS) – President and Chief Executive Officer of the Airports Authority of Jamaica (AAJ), Audley Deidrick, says that the entity is looking at proposals from the operators of the two major international airports to address the long-term economic effects and recovery from the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. These proposals will be put to the government for consideration and approval, he told JIS News in a recent interview
Deidrick said that some accommodations have already been made to the operators of the Norman Manley International Airport (NMIA) and Sangster International Airport (SIA), arising from the effects of the pandemic, which included delaying the start of some major infrastructure projects.
“These proposals were quite major in nature. In fact, they involved in a significant way, revision of certain terms and commitments in the concession agreement, so because of the far-reaching nature of this request from both airports, it had to go through a process” he said. “It required going through deliberation and negotiation, which couldn’t be done in the short-term. So since December was the date that we had given for an initial extension of certain obligations, we further made some considerations to continue these extensions up to mid-2021, while at the same time, we will look at the requests that were put to us for consideration to go to the government,” he explained.
Deidrick said that in the case of the NMIA, the concessionaire had taken over operations of the facility only a few months before the pandemic hit. The management of NMIA was officially handed over to PAC Kingston Airports Limited, a subsidiary of Mexican firm Grupo Aeroportuario del Pacifico (GAP), in October 2019.
“So essentially, they only operated that airport for three months before the news of COVID-19 came and the full impact really struck us in March. By March 25, the government had to close the Jamaican borders from inbound aviation traffic,” Deidrick noted. “This knocked them out of the water, so to speak, being a new concession and having not yet built up certain resources. Even though as a contracted obligation, the AAJ could have insisted on them doing or commencing works that were committed, judgement and understanding needed to prevail,” he contended.
As a result, he said that the major programme of works that should have started in mid-2020, to include the expansion of the NMIA runway, was put on hold.
Deidrick explained that the concessionaire had initially asked for a deferral of the commencement date and this was agreed on for December 2020.
“It had to do with contractual hiccups that they were having, but when COVID-19 came, and they asked for a range of considerations, one of them was for the deferral of not just the commencement but the end date for that project and so we had given them an extension of up to six months to start,” he explained.
Deidrick added that the proposals from the airport operators came subsequent to the request for the extension of time to commence the capital programmes.
GAP operates NMIA under a 25-year concession agreement while SIA is operated by MBJ Airports Limited under a 30-year concession. MBJ Airports Limited is a partnership between GAP and Canada’s Vantage Airport Group.